Putting it nicely, The LEGO Ninjago Movie is the third best entry in the LEGO Movie series. Compared to the wonderful predecessors that were The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie, Ninjago falls flat.
Though it is not a bad movie, it is nowhere near the well-balanced, continuously humorous films that it follows.
The premise offers promising story material. Dave Franco plays Lloyd Garmadon, a teenager who secretly defends his city as the Green Ninja, and who is also the son of his own antagonist, Lord Garmadon.
Lloyd and his friends fight Lord Garmadon on a regular basis, each as a ninja of a different element: ice, lightning, earth, water, fire and green.
The emotional arc inherent in a warrior fighting his estranged father, expressed through the humor and style of LEGO Movies past could have been amazing.
What its predecessors had, though, is what Ninjago lacks. The first two movies had a laugh at nearly every moment, with humor both simplistic and clever, while Ninjago has extended scenes lacking anything enjoyable.
The big surprise of The LEGO Movie was in its depth, creating a multilayered narrative involving state surveillance, individuality and musings on the nature of LEGO. The LEGO Batman Movie was insightful regarding the nature of loneliness and family.
The themes this time around are mostly a rehash of what has been seen before, such as Lloyd trying to find individuality like Emmet in The LEGO Movie and Lord Garmadon examining his lonely life as Batman does in his own movie.
Ninjago is somewhat of a retread, coming across as ho-hum in its repetition.
There are some positive moments among the blandness. The opening credits are a delightful homage to classic kung fu movies. A joke involving the one-time appearance of the Fuchsia Ninja is hysterical.
LEGO construction is entertaining in its inclusion of stickers. There is a great cameo by Michael Strahan and there are other moments that are skillfully done.
These moments are too few and far between. There is too much time spent waiting for enjoyment, watching the action unfold. Uninspired musical cues repeatedly invade the film in a way that make the incessant repetition of The LEGO Movie’s “Everything is Awesome” feel like something desirable.
Visually, the film suffers from the Michael Bay style of mechanical incomprehensibility as found in the Transformers movie series. Ninjas ride in mechs, large robots akin to the “Jaegers” of Pacific Rim, each customized to their own unique elements.
Once these mechs go into battle, their extensive moving parts, all framed a little too close, become difficult to discern, and create unpleasing visuals.
The aesthetic of the film lacks the original’s sense of style, with the original ensuring that every piece of the movie was somehow made out of LEGO, while Ninjago uses CGI water and elements of nature instead. The previous entries were attentive to detail to the point where the lack of specificity in this film becomes noticeably disappointing.
If The LEGO Movie had been this sort of film—pleasant but forgettable, nothing special but not a complete waste of time—that would have been understandable.
The film was expected to be a corporate cash grab, a way of making box office money and squeezing in advertising as well. Instead its creators, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, made something wonderful and hysterical, thoughtful yet approachable.
Its follow up in the way of The LEGO Batman Movie was another masterstroke, excellently weaving together the Batman lore and the LEGO world. The mediocrity of this third film is so much more disappointing as a result.
Even the MacGuffin of the film, the item of power that multiple people are seeking, feels like a page stolen from the book of The LEGO Movie. In the first film, the Kragle is a weapon of ultimate power that is prophesied to be able to be defeated by the Piece of Resistance.
Ninjago has its own weapon of ultimate power in the form of a laser pointer that summons a cat. Though the two are unique in sense of use, the centrality of a real-world object within the plot that is referred to by a name of mystical nature is something that feels tediously redone.
For anyone without expectations, The LEGO Ninjago Movie will be fine. There are enough funny moments to fill a conversation on the way to the parking lot after leaving the movie. Lord Garmadon’s backstory moments are extremely enjoyable, down to the cheesy but sweet moment of his love at first fight.
However, any viewer expecting more of the excellence that this franchise has provided will leave disappointed.
The film functions by building concepts of what would probably be funny, the kind of speculative humor that does not play out well in the transition from idea to script to screen.
There is excessive talking in lieu of concise storytelling or a subtler delivery of information and theme. Some of the most disappointing movies are just like Ninjago—not a bad movie, but a waste of potential.